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Tiny satellites can provide significant information about space

Tiny Satellites Can Provide Significant Information About Space
Two 3U CubeSats orbit around Earth. Credit: NASA

CubeSats are satellites constructed of cubic units, or U, a bit smaller than a square tissue box, or about 10 centimeters (about 4 inches) on each side. (A 2U CubeSat, for instance, is about the size of a rectangular tissue box.) Initially developed two decades ago as an inexpensive platform for students to learn about satellite development, CubeSats weren't thought of as devices for collecting valuable data.

However, these tiny satellites can capture high-quality information and measurements that make them useful for and scientists alike. Xinlin Li describes two student-led research projects that used CubeSats to collect data about the near-Earth space environment in a recent article published in AGU Advances.

The Colorado Student Space Weather Experiment (CSSWE), supported by the National Science Foundation, began in 2010 as a University of Colorado Boulder graduate course. Its focus was on designing and building a CubeSat and accompanying to measure the flux of solar protons and Earth's radiation belt electrons.

Students kept detailed documentation to ensure the project's continuity as their peers completed the course, and their 3U satellite with an electron and proton telescope launched on 13 September 2012 as a secondary payload. Their ground station in Boulder received information from it as it first passed overhead. Graduate students were responsible for continued mission operations, eventually developing an automated operation system.

The CSSWE project affected the academic and professional careers of more than 65 students—their research with the CubeSat contributed to numerous dissertations, peer-reviewed papers, and even scientific breakthroughs: The data gathered from the CSSWE helped resolve a long-standing mystery about the source and behavior of energetic electrons in Earth's radiation belts.

The second CubeSat project, supported by NASA, built upon this knowledge. With a bigger budget and continued student interest, the Colorado Inner Radiation Belt Experiment (CIRBE) team developed another 3U CubeSat, this one more advanced than its predecessor, to gather more information about radiation belt electron dynamics and behavior. The CIRBE was launched in April 2023 and has been providing data ever since.

Both projects have contributed to the research and understanding of the near-Earth space environment and may offer valuable insights into how to conduct high-quality space research at a low cost.

More information: Xinlin Li, Unveiling Energetic Particle Dynamics in the Near‐Earth Environment From CubeSat Missions, AGU Advances (2024). DOI: 10.1029/2024AV001256

Journal information: AGU Advances

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Citation: Tiny satellites can provide significant information about space (2024, May 13) retrieved 19 May 2024 from https://phys.org/news/2024-05-tiny-satellites-significant-space.html
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